Lamb is a versatile protein with health benefits, so why don’t we eat more lamb? Here are some reasons as well as why we believe lamb belongs on your menu.
Having spent a lot of time in France and around the Mediterranean, I have learned to love the rich flavor and versatility of lamb. Lamb burgers, lamb shish kebabs, and grilled lamb chops are all part of my regular culinary repertoire.
However, I know from talking to my friends, blog readers, and culinary students that many people eat lamb very infrequently, if at all. I think that is a shame because those people are missing out on a healthy, delicious, and easy-to-prepare source of protein. So, in this post, I am going to explain exactly why we should all be eating more lamb.
Lamb is an Traditional Meat in Many Cultures
Humans began raising sheep as a food source around 10,000 years ago, making sheep one of the very first domesticated animals. Indeed, throughout human history, people have relied on sheep for meat, milk and wool.
As humans progressed from simple hunters and gatherers to forming permanent settlements supported by agriculture, sheep-herding became one of the first specialized professions. (Think of all the stories of shepherds in ancient mythology and, of course, in the Bible.) Today, people still raise sheep all over the world and lamb is a traditional meat for many global cuisines, including Indian, Greek, Middle Eastern and Chinese.
Why Americans Don’t Eat Lamb
Despite this long history, lamb has fallen out of favor with American cooks and diners. Americans eat only .8 pounds of lamb per person per year, as compared to 100 pounds of chicken per person every year. By contrast, worldwide lamb consumption is around 4 pounds per person per year.
Moreover, Americans’ consumption of lamb has decreased since its peak in the 1970s when it was nearly 3 pounds of lamb per person per year. While lamb remains a popular protein in many American immigrant communities, especially Greek, Indian, and Muslim communities, nearly half of Americans don’t eat any lamb at all.
Why don’t Americans eat more lamb? Many people claim not to like lamb, citing its strong, somewhat gamey flavor as the reason. However, these people may be basing their dislike of lamb on an outdated premise.
The bias against lamb started during WWII when American soldiers stationed in the U.K. and Europe were fed mutton, which is meat from an older sheep, not a lamb. Mutton does have quite a strong taste – much more so than lamb – and that taste can be somewhat off-putting. As a result, these soldiers came home and told their wives never to serve them lamb!
Over the past few generations, many Americans have not grown up eating lamb. As a result, many of us are unfamiliar with the different cuts of lamb and how to cook them. This lack of experience with lamb can make us wary. No one wants to spend a good portion of their grocery budget on a piece of meat that they feel anxious about cooking correctly and are not sure their families will enjoy.
But there is really no need to be afraid of lamb. Today, the lamb available at grocery stores and butcher counters comes exclusively from young animals under one year of age and has a mild but rich and meaty taste. That strong, gamey flavor which comes from older animals is a thing of the past. Certain cuts of lamb are especially mild, such as ground lamb. That is the perfect place to start if you are new to eating lamb.
And there are many helpful resources available to take the mystery out of shopping for and cooking lamb. In addition to the posts in this series, the American Lamb Board’s website explains all the different cuts of lamb and the best ways to cook each cut and provides some mouth-watering recipes.
Lamb Is a Healthy Source of Protein
By not including lamb in our culinary repertoires, we are really missing out on one of the world’s most beloved meats. And that is a shame. Because not only does lamb taste delicious, it is a healthy source of protein, especially when compared to other red meats.
An average 3-ounce serving of lamb has 160 calories and 23 grams of protein – almost 50% of the recommended daily allowance of protein. Moreover, lamb is also a good source of other important vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B-6 and 12, niacin, zinc, and iron. Many cuts of lamb are also quite lean, including the leg, and contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
Beef, of course, also provides protein and iron, but there is one area in which lamb has a notable advantage over beef: lambs almost exclusively eat grass and, as a result, their meat is particularly rich in important omega-3 fatty acids. Indeed, that 3-ounce serving of lamb, has almost five times as much omega-3 fatty acids as the same size piece of beef. That’s a pretty compelling reason to check out this other red meat.
Lamb is Versatile
So, we know that lamb is both delicious and healthy. If that is not enough to convince you to eat more lamb, consider how versatile lamb is. Depending on the cut, lamb works equally well for your fanciest dinner party as it does for a harried, weeknight cooking.
Are you looking for an elegant holiday centerpiece? Rack of lamb is among the most tender, flavorful meats you can buy and it never fails to impress guests. Rack of lamb can also be cut into individual rib chops, which are sometimes called lamb lollipops because you can hold the chop with your hand and eat the meat right off the bone. These lamb lollipops are a favorite party hors d’oeuvre.
Rack of lamb may be as fancy as it gets, but there are plenty of cuts of lamb that are economical and quick-cooking – just what you need for a busy weeknight. A Chinese-inspired lamb stir-fry will cook up in just minutes. Lamb loin chops, which are readily available, can be pan-seared on the stove in under 15 minutes.
Do you love to use your kitchen appliances? Lamb shanks have tons of flavor and when cooked in the Instant Pot come out fork-tender with a rich sauce that begs to be spooned over mashed potatoes or polenta. Don’t have all day? The air fryer cooks lamb meatballs in a flash.
Moreover, lamb works with so many different cuisines and flavors. Globally, lamb is the second most consumed meat in the world after goat. (Yes, that’s right: goat is the most consumed meat in the world.) Whether you are a fan of Indian, Greek, Middle Eastern, or Chinese food – or all of the above! – you can find a lamb dish that has the flavors you are looking for.
There you have it! So many reasons to eat lamb. The rest of the world knows that lamb is a delicious, healthy and versatile protein. Now, it is time for Americans to realize the many benefits of eating lamb as well.